08 May 2012

Maurice Sendak on Oz

Here’s the late, great Maurice Sendak on the power of the MGM Wizard of Oz, from the pages of the New York Times:

“Children make crucial decisions at that point,” he said, “and it happens in the wink of an eye. It’s those crucial seconds when the mother and father can’t watch. This was so absolutely, beautifully, rendered for me when I was very young and I saw ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There’s a scene that I think was a little bit St. Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus for me. It was near the end of the movie, when Dorothy is imprisoned in the room with the Wicked Witch, and the witch takes the hourglass and turns it over and says: You see that? That’s how much longer you’ve got to be alive.

“And Dorothy says, I’m frightened, I’m frightened, and then the crystal ball shows Auntie Em, and Auntie Em is saying, Dorothy, Dorothy, where are you? and Dorothy hovers over it and says: I’m here in Oz, Auntie Em. I’m locked up in the witch’s castle. Don’t go away, I’m frightened. And I remember that when my sister took me I burst into tears. I knew just what it meant, which was that a mother and child can be in the same room and want to help each other, and they cannot. Even though they were face to face, the crystal ball separated them. Something separates people now and then. And I think it’s that moment that interests me, and compels me.”
When Disney was planning a quasi-sequel to that movie, the studio hired Sendak to help design it. Ultimately he had little to do with Return to Oz, but he did produce this poster for the publicity campaign. This image is from Surrender Dorothy’s Etsy site.
I’m not sure who the somewhat sinister gent on the right is supposed to be.

Sendak also drew the more cheery cover art for Books of Wonder’s Oz: The Hundredth Anniversary Celebration. But why would the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman have eating utensils?


Hungry Tiger Talk said...

I was sorry to hear of Sendak's passing but with the exception of WILD THINGS and NIGHT KITCHEN I kind of dislike most of his work.

Interesting comments on that scene from the MGM film though. It has never once occurred to me that it is actually Auntie Em in the crystal ball - it seems to clearly be a trick of the Wicked Witch. The scene where Aunt Em fades into the Witch is to me the only genuinely frightening moment in the film.

J. L. Bell said...

Wild Things and Night Kitchen are definitely Sendak’s masterpieces, but I’m also very fond of the Nutshell Library (especially One Was Johnny) and the Little Bear books.

I think the picture books from Outside Over There on are less entertaining, reflecting Sendak's idiosyncratic personal expression rather than the combination of personal expression and desire to please and communicate that produces the best popular art.

I imagine you've experienced more of Sendak's work in opera and stage design.

Hungry Tiger Talk said...

Growing up, my experience was kids really didn't like Sendak much (except for WILD THINGS). His work was dark brooding, and he had a tendency to draw incredibly ugly and unappealing children, IMHO. Interesting both WILD THINGS and NIGHT KITCHEN are very cartoony and not in his broody, over-rendered, crosshatchy style.

On the whole I rather dislike Sendak's theatre work. It too suffers from his personal vision rather than a desire to please and communicate. Set design needs to serve the piece - not the designer.